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Utilising combined heat and power (CHP) for Data Centres

In a conference at Nabarro’s offices, specialists talked about how combined heat and power, or CHP, could be utilized in data centres to improve the cost and reliability of keeping data centres running smoothly. Additionally, these systems support green initiatives by reducing the carbon footprint. These are some positive aspects of CHP that still haven’t caught on with the rest of the industry.

It was due to this lack of interest in innovation that the Nabarro LLP law firm and the Combined Heat & Power Association hosted this conference to bring together the data centre industry with CHP industry proponents. Hoping to forge stronger bonds between these two industries, a variety of interesting presentations and discourse was presented to show just what CHP has to offer.

The program began with the Combined Heat & Power Association’s Craig Dennet offering an overview of CHP technology and the economic benefits. Craig defined the CHPA’s role in representing the developers, operators and installers of combined tri-generation, heat and power plant and district heating systems. Tri-generation technology is truly innovative. It uses the heat given off by CHP generator to provide cooling via an absorption chiller. This makes full use of heat generated by CHP engine rather than exhausting it straight to atmosphere. In fact, district heat and cooling configurations can even monetise waste heat and sell it for additional income.

Next on the program was Nabarro’s planning partner, Christopher Stanwell. He explained how green initiatives have taken root in the UK’s town and country planning regime. These new requirements obligate developers of new data centres to implement environmentally friendly infrastructure. CHP offers a way to meet these obligations with minimal capital expenditure. Christopher’s observations highlighted the fact that CHP provides a way to meet obvious needs of an organisation that can actually lead to more revenue and substantially lower operational costs.

Combined heating and power systems are considered renewable energy. Compared with other renewable technologies, CHP has an excellent efficiency level and can help city planning departments meet goals and provide additional energy resources. These claims were backed up by case studies of the Low Carbon Energy Centre located in the metropolitan area of Leeds. This combined heating and power system works in harmony with traditional boiler system to provide heating.

However, it is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Barry Knight, representing the Carbon Trust was the next to address the convention. Barry showed that, while these plants are efficient, their physical footprint is larger than many other solutions. This could present challenges to some wishing to implement the technology. The air quality requirements of many data centres might cause issues when considering the need to reduce CO2 emissions versus the easier solution of using natural gas fuel. However, both choices present challenges and difficulties.

Fortunately, there are companies that are already making a success of data centre industry innovations like CHP. For example, Future-tech has a number of award-winning data centre projects that have produces quantifiable results.

Future-tech has designed and built data centres with Power Usage Effectiveness ratings as low as 1.16, couple this with the reduced energy costs associated with CHP and the overall savings can be vast.

Apart from being a more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution CHP data centres offer faster returns on investment.

The conclusion of the conference hosted questions from the audience. The numerous questions showed a real interest in the possibilities of CHP and the clear need for cooperation between these two sectors. Where data centre heating and cooling had previously been simply an unavoidable expense, the information presented at this conference made it clear that CHP has a lot to offer to both the IT industry and local communities.